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CEO of US coal company where blast killed 29 given prison sentence

07 April 2016

Former Massey Energy Chief Executive Don Blankenship was sentenced to a year in prison and fined $250,000 on April 6 for his role in the 2010 Upper Big Branch mine coal mine explosion in West Virginia that killed 29 workers. Blankenship was given the maximum sentence for the misdemeanor conviction and was also sentenced to a year of supervised probation after release.

West Virginia coal mine
West Virginia coal mine

Blankenship, who headed Massey from 2000 to 2010, was convicted in December 2015 of conspiring to falsify dust samples at the mine, but was acquitted on felony charges related to the accident. His lawyers said they would appeal the sentence.

The death toll was the highest in a US mine accident since 91 workers died in a 1972 Idaho silver mine fire. The blast at Upper Big Branch took place about 300m underground and Federal investigators said a fire caused by a methane or natural gas leak likely set off a coal dust explosion.

Worn teeth on cutting equipment may have showered the area with sparks, they said.
Blankenship was one of West Virginia's most influential figures for decades. As head of Massey Energy, the largest coal producer in Appalachia, he employed thousands of people and operated more than 40 mines.

Massey Energy was bought in 2011 by Alpha Natural Resources for about $7 billion.

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